January 30, 2016Posted by on
Sensing someone behind him he instinctively swung around and knocked his suspected assailant to the ground where they now lay face down and unmoving. Drawing his sword he pressed it into the stranger’s back making sure that its point would be felt and demanded to know why they had approached him so stealthily. Getting no response he apprehensively glanced around the clearing, deciding whether or not he should string his bow in case there were more attackers lurking in the surrounding forest. First he needed to make sure that body prone on the ground before him was not feigning unconsciousness. He kicked it so hard the body rolled over.
An angry voice cried out, ‘Ouch! That hurt you pillock.’
Taken by surprise he exclaimed, ‘You’re a wench!’
Suni looked up at the stranger wondering how she had ended up in such a surreal situation, the 2T1 wasn’t supposed to be active, it was still a prototype. Ignoring the reality of the pain from his blow and kick, she angrily began a heated exchange of words with the stranger. ‘Of course I’m a woman you ass.’
Pressing his sword between her breasts and causing her to wince, he said, ‘Are you a Moor wench, you have the complexion of one?’
‘If you didn’t have that sword pointing at me I’d teach you the error of meddling with this wench as you call me, I’m afraid of no man.’
‘So you think yourself my equal wench, though I never heard you approaching behind me with your Moorish stealth. Nor have I ever seen hose so fine and fitting so comely on a wench. I’ve heard that Moors wear attire covering their whole body as yours is, although it’s said to be loose robes, not tight fitting as your’s. Are you dressed as a man?’
The reality of her situation began to dawn on Suni, causing her to adopt a more conciliatory tone. She quickly concocted a lie, hoping that what she said would be accepted by him. ‘I am dressed as a man, it’s the only way I can ride out alone.’ Realising that her unitard would be unfamiliar to him, she continued, ‘I took off my cote-hardie2 because it was so hot. When my horse bolted it threw me and left me abandoned. You can see that I’m not armed and I’m not a Moor.’
‘So why did you just threaten me Moorish wench, did you intend to rob me and steal my possessions?’
‘No, no! I feared you.’
‘You don’t look afraid Moor. No-one travels alone and unarmed through a forest, especially a wench who would disguise herself as a man.’ Placing a foot on her stomach he sheathed his sword but placed his hand menacingly on the hilt of his dagger, ‘Before I let you up wench, tell me who you are and what you are doing out here.’
‘My name is Suni and . . .’ she hesitated, thinking quickly, she could hardly say that she was studying John of Gaunt and 14th century English history, ‘I live at Hartford Castle as John of Gaunt’s ward. Apart from the stable boy no-one there knew that I rode out alone, especially dressed as a man. I knew my action wouldn’t meet with approval so I left a note saying I was on my way to meet with Chaucer at Savoy Palace. My weapons were lost when my horse bolted as they were attached to the pommel — and I’m not a Moor.’ Telling him her warden was John of Gaunt, Suni counted on it making her story more believable. Adding that as Chaucer’s patron her ward had given her permission to meet with Chaucer at Savoy Palace, but he would disapprove of the action she had taken to get there.
‘So you’re a ward of the King’s uncle who now lives at Hertford Castle and owns that fine London palace?’
Ignoring the bitter tone of his response but becoming increasingly irritated at the need to maintain her concocted charade, Suni told him that she wanted to discuss writing with Chaucer.
‘A wench discussing writing with Chaucer,’ he scoffed.
His disparaging remarks made Suni forget her predicament as she replied aggressively, ‘You really are an ass. So you think a wench knows nothing of writing? What about Julian of Norwich and Margaret Skolmaystres?’
Cowed by such an invective response he took his foot off her stomach, saying reproachfully, ‘You called me an ass again whilst knowing nothing of me. As a student at Cambridge University we discussed both women and the writings of Chaucer — and Dante. There’s more to university scholasticism than study of the bible and the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Certainly more than is taught to a haughty high-born wench, however well tutored.’
Curbing an impulse to reply Suni got up very slowly. Stepping back from her — while keeping his hand on the hilt of his dagger — he mused, ‘Sunny, is that a nickname? Even on a day as bright as today, it hardly fits a high-born lady like you with such a fiery tongue and temperament.’
‘No, it’s my name,’ she said, thinking that correcting his misunderstanding of her name would only lead to more questions.
‘And you’re not a Moor?’
Exasperated, Suni replied, ‘I’ve already told you I’m not a Moor, I’m as English as you.’ Well, perhaps not quite as English, Suni though.
Apparently satisfied, he introduced himself as Thomas, a mercer’s son from Cambridge, who was also on his way to London and that they were probably about halfway between London and Cheshunt. He then offered to escort her back to Saint Mary’s Priory at Cheshunt where she would be safe. Suggesting that if her horse had returned home safely any search party would likely stop and make enquiries there, otherwise he would escort her to London. ‘Saint Mary’s Priory or Savoy Palace? I’ll escort you to either,’ he said.
‘London,’ Suni replied, ‘I’ll send a message back to the priory to mollify any search party when we next meet a traveller going there.’
Thomas handed her a cote-hardie out of his satchel saying, ‘Here, put this on over that hose you’re wearing.’ Recognising the need to disguise her unitard and be safe until she figured out what had happened to her, Suni put on the cote-hardie without protest. He seemed to accept that she lived as a royal ward but now his caution in speaking matched hers, so they mostly walked towards London in silence.
Winding their way towards the city and unable to contain her curiosity about the period in history she was studying, she asked Thomas why he spoke so harshly of the nobility, remarking that his attire and the weapons he carried indicated that he was a man of some means.
Becoming flushed he responded bitterly, ‘Those living in their castles and manors seek to ease the consequences of the pestilence by imposing restraints on those less fortunate, then conspire against each other to entice them into their service with illegal wages. Their parliament’s demand for a poll tax is a burden on everyone except themselves and creates the greatest unrest in the land. Then what understanding should I expect from someone born into privilege who can idly while away her time with the writings of Chaucer.’
Before she could answer him the 2T alarm sounded. Thankful that only she could hear it Suni wondered if someone from the laboratory was trying to contact her. Perhaps she could return to her own time or at least find out how she ended up being physically in this one. She need a ruse to look at the 2T without Thomas noticing. ‘Thomas I’ve got to stop and go — er — go to the — go for a . . .’ Suni’s voice trailed feebly off, embarrassed about asking despite knowing the words to use.
Curtly Thomas said, ‘If you want to piss or shite then go — I’ll walk slowly on.’
Thomas continued to walk ahead while Suni went into the nearby undergrowth and squatted down, taking the 2T from a pocket in her unitard. It showed four people ahead of Thomas, standing up to see how far away they might be she saw Thomas fall to the ground. Forgetting any attempt to return to her own time Suni rushed towards him shouting his name, at the same time she saw three men emerge from the forest walking towards Thomas’s body. Getting to Thomas first, Suni stood over his body and shouted, ‘Don’t come any closer you bastards if you know what’s good for you.’
’Two birds with one stone,’ the man with a sling boastfully called out to his two companions, ‘and one of them a wench.’ With that they rushed towards Suni who dropped the 2T beside Thomas’s body and moved towards the advancing men. Her action caused them to stop and they split up, now cautiously encircling her.
Suni moved forward towards the man with the sling, who seeing her do this pulled out a knife. She realised that without the 2T she understood little of what they were saying to each other but her knowledge of medieval English was enough to understand their intentions. Before his two companions could get any closer to her Suni closed in on the man and kicked him in the knee. She heard it crack and he fell down holding his leg crying in agony. She turned to face the other two wondering where the fourth man was as she couldn’t see him. One of the men carried a quarterstaff and the other held a dagger in each hand, Suni moved toward the man with the daggers who called out to his companion telling him to attack her with his quarterstaff. His companion had now stopped moving, seemingly frozen with fear, so the man closed in on her waving his daggers as a distraction. He suddenly leapt towards her. When her foot crushed his windpipe he stared at her in surprise before dropping the daggers, clutching his throat and gasped for air he fell to the ground. Quickly turning Suni saw the assailant with the quarterstaff flee into the forest.
She looked back for Thomas but couldn’t see him, perhaps he was still lying unconscious, hidden by the long grass. It was then that the fourth man came out of the forest pointing a crossbow at her. He obviously intended to use it if she moved towards him. Suni muttered under her breath ‘Where the hell are you Thomas,’ but he was nowhere to be seen.
The man who had run away came out of the forest calling to the man with the crossbow who must have told him what to do as he began moving cautiously towards her. Suni could still see the fear in his eyes as he approached with his quarterstaff ready to strike, always keeping her in the sights of the crossbowman. Suddenly, with a soft gasp he dropped his quarterstaff and fell dead with an arrow in his back. Looking frantically around she saw Thomas some distance away pointing his next arrow at the man with the crossbow. Unable to make out what they were saying Suni saw the man slowly put the crossbow on the ground. Thomas called her name and guessing that he meant her to pick up the crossbow, she collected the quarterstaff and walked over to the remaining attacker, striking him between his legs with the quarterstaff she said, ‘Arse! So you thought to have fun with me.’ Changing the quarterstaff for the crossbow, she pointed it at the man now rolling in agony on the ground. Turning to Thomas she called out, ’Where the hell have you been.’
He sprinted over to her having now drawn his sword. ‘What did you say?’ he asked.
‘I asked where you had got . . .’ Realising that they could understand each other Suni knew that he must have the 2T on him. ‘Never mind, your here now, even if you did leave it a little late.’
The man on the ground had stopped writhing in agony and looked malevolently at Suni saying, ‘What kind of witch are you dressed as a man, speaking with a foreign tongue, breaking bones and killing a man with a kick?’
‘I’m no witch you arse and unless you want die by your own your own bolt, you’ll curb your tongue.’
Thomas looked at her quizzically, ‘You really did all that?’
Suni shrugged — a gesture he seemed to understand.
Looking around Thomas had noticed the man nursing his leg and the man he had killed but had not seen the other man now lying silent in the long grass. ‘Maybe you are not a Moor nor a lady but some kind of of enchantress. Whichever it is you saved my life and I’m in your debt. We should hasten away from here, these outlaws may be part of a larger band.’ Turning to the man on the ground he said, ‘Take off all your clothes and weapons. You can leave your braies3 on.’ Encouraged by the prodding of Thomas’s sword he did as he was told. When he had finished Thomas turned to Suni telling her to put the outlaw’s clothes on and take his weapons.
‘I’m not wearing his dirty clothes, he may have fleas on him!’
‘Dammit wench, a flea or two won’t kill you and neither of us will be safe with you dressed like that, even wearing my cote-hardie.’
Suni took the bolt out and released the crossbow. She put on the man’s belt with scabbards housing both a sword and a dagger. It also had a money and a bolt pouch, which she put the loose bolt into. Then she wrapped his clothes into a bundle and tied them on the end of the quarterstaff. Picking up the crossbow and claw Suni said, ‘I’ll put the clothes on later, you’re right we need to get away from here as quickly as possible.’
Thomas nodded his head in the direction down the path, ‘You carry on, I’ll follow you shortly.’
Suni thought that he was going to kill the outlaw. She walked quickly down the pathway until she thought that it was safe to stop. Looking back she saw Thomas running after her and the man left in braies get up and go over to man still nursing his broken leg. She watched as the man reluctantly took off his clothes and then saw him scream in pain as his breeches were forcibly taken from him. Having put on his clothes the crossbowman casually picked up the man’s dagger and slit his throat. Walking over to the other men he looking towards her and shook his fist menacingly. Suni’s hand fell against the money pouch on the belt she was wearing, opening it and saw that it held a lot of coins. Perhaps taking his money pouch was a mistake she thought, we may have made an enemy out of a very dangerous man, maybe Thomas should have killed him. She was surprised at her own dispassion, everything seemed increasingly surreal to her in this world.
Walking quickly they put as much distance between themselves and their encounter with the outlaws as they could. Discussing what had just happened Suni had great difficulty in explaining her actions to Thomas. She made up yet another story by telling him that her father never had a son and always treated her as a boy, teaching her the art of fighting. She put her actions against the two men as good fortune, knowing that he was hardly likely to understand the practice of martial arts by a wench — smiling now at the thought of being referred to as wench. When Thomas recounted the dream he had while he lay unconscious, Suni was filled with fresh hope but wondered where he had put the 2T or even knew that he had it.
Eventually Thomas said, ‘I suggest that we stop here. You should change into those clothes you’re carrying before we meet anyone else if we are to avoid too many awkward questions and raise any suspicions about you, especially that strange and provocative hose you’re wearing. And curb that sharp tongue of yours with men if you want to avoid further trouble.’
Knowing he was right, Suni replied, ‘I’ll try to curb my tongue, as for the clothes I need to clean them first, I’ll wash them in the nearby river, they won’t take long to dry in this sunshine.’
Having watched Thomas take a drink from the river Suni did the same chancing that it was untainted.
Sitting beside her while she washed the clothes, something was clearly amusing Thomas. Trying unsuccessfully to contain his laughter he said, ‘With those clothes on we could look like brothers, we’re about the same height, both with cropped black hair and blue eyes, although given your complexion cousins would be better. Maybe we should make up a story in case anyone asks us, we could say that one of your forefathers married a Moor in the holy land.’
Suni threw his cote-hardie at him, then burst into laughter herself saying, ‘Why not.’
Putting on the clothes that had now dried Suni took a handful of coins out of her pouch. She showed them to Thomas who gasped, ’That’s a lot of money, outlawry paid them well.’
‘Take it Thomas, its better that we share this money in case some other mishap befalls us.’
‘Maybe it would be safer if we each carried some, it must amount to a small fortune.’ Putting the coins into his own pouch Thomas exclaimed, ‘That’s strange, this object wasn’t in here before!’
When Thomas took out the 2T Suni realised that she had to either tell Thomas the truth — or a truth that he might understand — and that that one of their lives could depend on his reaction. ‘You remember when the outlaw felled you back in the forest Thomas and you had that strange dream. Well . . .’
¹2T (pronounced tootee) — A 21st century term derived from the mnemonic Time Travel Exploratory Device (TTED).
2Cote-hardie – A medieval close fitting sleeved tunic worn by both sexes. SOED
3Braies — Medieval under garment (underpants).